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Thoughts and Hallucinations

Abstract for plenary on knowledge transfer

A talk for the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research from 2009

A Little Knowledge Transfer Can Be a Dangerous Thing
Dr. Michael Agar

"Knowledge transfer" means many things to many people; some say it is not clear what it means at all. But in another sense, like the famous Moliere character who claimed that he'd been speaking prose all his life, it isn't such an alien concept after all. It is diffusion of innovation, in the sense of how a new idea moves through a social network. It is power, in the sense of something required by those who control resource flow as a condition of continuing that flow. It is translation, in the sense of figuring out what something means. It is learning, in the sense of both social learning and educational scaffolds. It is organizational, about communication and change and how to bring it about. It is adaptation, or even resistance, in the sense that people who are forced can change the transfer's shape until it does the opposite of what the transferor intended.

Dr. Agar will draw on cases from his own work with social service organizations, ethnographic practice, and complexity theory, to show that KT varies along dimensions known in these fields, dimensions that are crucial for its success, failure, or mix of both at the same time. Examples of these dimensions include the observation that KT occurs in a social context whose features powerfully influence the outcome, and that the two sides of any transfer relation will always be different enough so that the knowledge will change shape in the transfer. He will advance the hypothesis that some variations in KT offer a greater chance of success than others, and the ethnographic attitude and organizational perspective that will make it more likely that collective learning and organizational implementation of KT will succeed.

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